“Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than they love the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest and sacrificial. God hates this wishful dreaming because it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. Those who dream of this idolized community demand that it be fulfilled by God, by others and by themselves. They enter the community of Christians with their demands set up by their own law, and judge one another and God accordingly. It is not we who build. Christ builds the church. Whoever is mindful to build the church is surely well on the way to destroying it, for he will build a temple to idols without wishing or knowing it. We must confess he builds. We must proclaim, he builds. We must pray to him, and he will build. We do not know his plan. We cannot see whether he is building or pulling down. It may be that the times which by human standards are the times of collapse are for him the great times of construction. It may be that the times which from a human point are great times for the church are times when it’s pulled down. It is a great comfort which Jesus gives to his church. You confess, preach, bear witness to me, and I alone will build where it pleases me. Do not meddle in what is not your providence. Do what is given to you, and do it well, and you will have done enough…. Live together in the forgiveness of your sins. Forgive each other every day from the bottom of your hearts.”
Community. We hear this word so much. What does it mean? What does it look like? There are a hundred different books by a hundred different authors who could give you a much more academic explanation, but practically speaking, these are some things I’ve learned (and am still learning).
It Takes Giving Before You Will Get
It’s easy to think ‘I’ll just wait till they invite me’, ‘I need to talk but I’ll wait till someone asks me how I’m doing’, ‘I want to get to know them better but I don’t want to impose, so I’ll let them take the first step.’ We all think these things. For the majority of people I’ve talked with, these are recurring thoughts that they struggle with. We have to set some of our cultural social rules aside and just jump in. Some of us are naturally outgoing and fluent in conversation. Some of us (raises hand) are pretty awkward at initial conversation with someone. But I’ve learned you just have to fake it and go for it. Invite someone over for dinner. Suggest getting together for coffee. Stay a little later at small group then you normally would. Express interest in someone’s life. Share that random tidbit about your day that you think no one else really cares about. Most people (like you) are simply waiting for someone else to take the first step.
It Takes Work (A Lot)
Once you establish community, you have to maintain it. But you are attempting to maintain it with a varied group of people who have different personalities and communication styles, not to mention different ideas and understandings of how community should look, on top of different schedules, lifestyles, circles of influence, wants and needs.It’s complicated and hard work. You have to pursue realtionships with people and seek out opportunities to share life. You have to maintain the mindset of humility, love, self-sacrifice, and serving -looking out for the other people in your community who are in turn looking out for you. The moment you turn slightly inward and begin thinking about yourself, the whole thing falls apart.
It Takes Ownership
Community isn’t something you go to or attend. You can go to a community group without it being your community. We have to invest in our community. We have to be willing to sacrifice our time and money, but not just sacrificing it, seeing it as an investment. Whether it means cooking a meal, listening to someone, having people over, it’s all an investment in the growth and development of the community. We also have to take responsibility for our community. How are the people in your community doing? How might you be of help? Are there ways that your community could improve? Are you living out what you say you want your community to be about? We can agree with all the right concepts without actually feeling the burden and taking on the responsibility of playing our part to make it happen.
It’s Going To Look Different For Different People (And that’s okay)
You won’t have the same depth and type of relationship with everyone in your community. You will find some best friends, some close friends, some people you admire but don’t talk with as much, some people that you pour into, some that pour into you-and that’s okay. That’s how it’s meant to be. A common misconception about community is that everyone is best friends with everyone and everything you do and share with one person, you should be doing and sharing with all people. Jealousy and envy easily can creep in here. Don’t get stuck in the trap of comparing your relationships with everyone else’s (or what you percieve everyone else’s to be!). Community really isn’t about finding people to hang out with, and it’s definitely not another social club. Which leads us to..
It’s Not About Me (Or Anyone Else In The Community)
Community isn’t a social activity for us to find things we enjoy doing and fill our extra time (who has extra time?) It’s not a place primarily for me to have my social, emotional or even spiritual needs met. Community, like all aspects of the Christian life, is a reflection of our King and His coming Kingdom. We represent the gospel in the way we interact with each other. We represent the gospel in the way we fail each other (sin), the way we reconcile (forgiveness, grace), the way we sacrifice on behalf of one another (like He sacrificed on behalf of us). Community is a stirring up of our hearts that are ever prone to fizzle out. It’s not just a place to confess where we’re failing, but a place where we can push each other forward and remind each other ‘Don’t settle, keep going, there’s more, we have a mission and it’s worth it.’
You will feel completely and totally alone.
You will feel your aloneness so intensely, you will start to feel yourself separating from planet earth and beginning to float away.
You will want to cry out but as you begin to, you realize that no one is listening.
You know if you don’t cry out now, you will be far out of range for anyone to hear and all hope will be lost, but you keep quiet. You keep quiet for a few more seconds, accepting your fate and preparing for whatever is about to happen next.But you can’t. They’re right there! Maybe if they knew they could help. If you could just get them to look up, surely they would see you! So you try to speak up, but no words come out.
Maybe it’s the change in the atmosphere around you or maybe some other invisible force is holding you back.
Besides, as reality sets in you realize you are too far gone for any of them to help you. To cry out now would be to make a spectacle of yourself…”Hey, I’m in trouble here but no one can help so just gather round and watch how it’s all going to fall apart!” So you resign yourself to floating.At least this way no one will know.
At least this way no one will see you in this condition.
Maybe this will end quickly.
Maybe you will hit something that will stop you.
Maybe it’s not so bad as it first seemed.
Maybe it’s better this way.You start to get comfortable.
Darkness sets in and you grow cold.
You feel less, but it’s easier that way.
You stop fighting.
Your eyes get heavy.
Every blink lasts a little bit longer.
You take a deep breath, in and out.
In, and out.
In and…-that moment when your lungs are as full as they can get something inside you snaps: No.
Arms and legs flailing, eyes jolted open, you realize that this is not okay.
You cannot resign and give up, you will not go out without a fight.
So you scream. You scream with everything you have just hoping that maybe you’re still close enough for someone to hear.
Just maybe they can still see you and just maybe they will be willing to reach out and pull you back in.
You scream until your very soul seems to be shaken.
And then, you feel someone’s hand on your shoulder and you jump.
You feel another hand on your arm and you realize your eyes are shut.
You open them and to your amazement you are on the ground and surrounded by hundreds of people all staring straight at you with wondering eyes.
“Are you alright?”
“Do you need help?”
You will feel completely and totally alone.
You will feel your aloneness so intensely- but things are not always as they seem.Cry out.
Open your eyes.
Realize you’re surrounded.
Last night I walked into a room full of people. I had to laugh at the children running in circles, laughing and chasing each other. There were ladies setting out cups with ice and potato soup toppings, and men pulling out a few tables and chairs. I had a king cake in my arms so I was met with big smiles and offers to take it off my hands. This is my community group.
What is a community group? Okay, let’s be real, most of you have grown up in the belt buckle of the bible belt just like me, so you know all the churchy lingo. But give me a few minutes of your time and hear my thoughts 🙂
I started going to South City Church in the Spring of 2012. Birthed out of the vision of Lance and April Nicholson, South City is only about a year old. Lance and April have been mentors and friends of mine for several years now, so when I felt led to join up with them and become a member of this new church endeavor, I was excited for many reasons. Every week people gather for our service on Sunday nights, but throughout the week in different locations and different nights, people gather for a deeper level of ‘church’.
Funny stories, things we saw on Facebook, something hysterical the kids said..all these were passed around last night as we enjoyed potato soup brought by one of the ladies. One of the members of our group is having surgery next week and there was discussion on who could bring a meal over and who was going to visit and check on them. The kids later went to another room to hangout and play while we divided up the king cake and got into some more pointed discussion.
At South City, community groups typically discuss some questions related to the message from Sunday. Personally I love this because you don’t always get it the first time, you know? Sometimes you need to let the message settle and then go back and discuss it with others to gain better perspective and put it into practice. I learn a lot by hearing other people talk about what they have been learning and how they are trying (and failing) to live it out.
One of the passages we were walking through last night was Psalm 145. The question was posed ‘What memories of God’s greatness do you share with others?’
“When my dad lost his job, we didn’t know what was going to happen, but God provided and took care of us.”
“My husband and I were divorced and just got remarried, I’d say that’s pretty great.”
“I’ve seen God provide in crazy ways every time I’ve attempted to fund raise for a mission trip or some kind of project.”
“I felt led to go to Africa and my boss wouldn’t let me off, so I quit my job and went trusting that He would take care of me. When I came back I was offered a job I didn’t even apply for and since then everything has lined up better then I could have planned myself.”
Varied responses came from around the room. Different people, different ages, backgrounds, jobs, family situations…different levels of theological training, some Christians for years, some new believers…but we all have one thing in common-we are broken and needy people and God has over and over again poured out His grace on our lives. Because of that one commonality, we are able to come together, share about what He’s done in our lives, wrestle with tough questions, lean on each other for support and encouragement, gain advice and perspective…
This is my community group. This is my church. I’m thankful.
If you don’t have a community group or aren’t even sure about the whole church thing, we’d love to have you come visit and I’d love to talk with you more about my struggle with ‘leaving the church’ and my journey to get plugged back in. Find me on Facebook or email me at BeckWattier@gmail.com